Tuesday morning at 10, the Rev. Stephen O'Gara convened the funeral of Don McMillan, 74, of Mendota Heights, who died last week. This was at the Church of the Assumption in downtown St. Paul, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1856, the church founded by Bishop Joseph Cretin.

If there is a heart of St. Paul, and there is, it isn't nearest its tallest buildings, or at the Capitol, but here, at the Assumption, which lies not far from the Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center, a place, as the church's historians note, "that cares for society's overlooked." It was, in fact, at the Assumption that Catholic Charities of Minneapolis and St. Paul was born, in the heart of St. Paul.

It was fitting, then, that on a sunny Tuesday morning, Don was remembered in a church whose service history befits its Christian purpose, by a crowd that might rival in size those who gather beneath its massive rounded arches on Easter morning or perhaps even Christmas Eve. For the star of the show was himself, in the end, not only a husband, father, grandfather, dentist and teacher, and a St. Paul native, but a man of service delivered, as they say, without fear or favor.

That the "outdoors'' was the beneficiary of his service was so much the better for Minnesota and Minnesotans, not least those yet unborn. Don fished. But he developed his conservation ethic fundamentally as a hunter. Credit his grandfather for setting young Don on a path that, before he was felled by a heart attack, would lead to Africa and other worldly destinations. Yet never lost on him was his relatively minor place in the grander scheme of things, and his obligation, so deeply felt, to leave behind more than he took.

"Wherever you go, there you are,'' was one of Don's favorite witticisms, recalled his son, Mark, who gave his Dad's eulogy.

Evident by those in attendance Tuesday, from Department of Natural Resources bigwigs to legislative leaders to rank and file hunters, trappers and anglers, the "there you are'' that Don left behind was keenly appreciated. Not only because he worked tirelessly on behalf of fish and wildlife and all those who love them, but because he did so with insight, passion, joy and above all, humility.

Don's intellect and socio-economic station could have kept him far removed from the two-bit high jinks of the Capitol lapdogs who each year hang for-sale signs on the state's woods, waters and fields, often while brandishing their hunting and fishing bona fides, as if those alone are credentials for anything.

His love for Minnesota and its resources demanded he argue otherwise.

His family's hope "is that someone, perhaps someone here this morning, will pick up where Dad left off,'' Mark McMillan said Tuesday.

If someone does, Minnesota would be better for it.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com